BRISTOL, Tenn. — There was anguish in Kyle Busch’s voice over the team radio, regret over a miscalculation that ended the night of quasi-teammate Martin Truex Jr. just 69 laps from the finish Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The contact in a charged battle for second place was the highest-profile hurdle in a night full of them for Busch, the pre-race favorite bidding for his third-straight win at the .533-mile track. He left with a crumpled No. 18 Toyota that figured prominently in three of the six incidents in the Bristol Night Race.
“That was just a misjudgment on my behalf. I crashed the 78 (of Truex),” said Busch, who survived for a 20th-place finish, three laps down. “That was my bad, totally. Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner. Knowing there were still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry. I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was, clipped him and sent him for a ride. He knows that wasn’t intentional at all, and we’ve worked really, really, really, really good together these last two, three years, so that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”
Busch was forced to chip away at a race-long disadvantage in the annual nighttime showdown after a Lap 2 spin and stack-up left him with heavy damage and a two-lap deficit. A later crash racing among the top five ended any hopes for a mammoth rally.
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew managed the damage each time. With Truex and his Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn, Busch said more damage control probably won’t be necessary to mend any fences. Truex kicked his car in frustration after emerging from the crash but was gracious after cooling off for post-race interviews. Their two teams share a technical alliance through Toyota.
“Cole’s really cool, Martin’s really cool. I think they’re fine,” Busch said. “Maybe I’ll send them a sorry cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra. They’ll probably throw that one away anyway. It ruined their day of being able to get a win or even a second.”
Truex, for his part, split the blame.
“Probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing,” Truex said. “Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following the 14 (of Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him.
“Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”
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Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, said he assumed the No. 78 team was frustrated by the contact, inadvertent or not. “They got wrecked out of a race. I’d be upset. That’s all there is to it. …
“When you’re fast and you’re competitive, you’re going to race with people. We’re fast, competitive and race with people,” Stevens added. “Kyle made a mistake. I don’t know what he said. I haven’t heard his quote, but on our radio, he said he made a mistake. That’s all you can do: Move on.”
The flagman had barely put the green flag away when Busch’s first mistake bit him. His No. 18 Toyota sustained sizable damage after the car skated loose, struggling to find grip in the low lane inside Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Ford. Rain earlier Saturday made the PJ1 traction additive much more of a variable, and Busch’s car didn’t stick through Turns 3 and 4.
WATCH: Busch wrecks on Lap 2
With his car crossways on the frontstretch, several others piled in. Truex’s No. 78 clipped the nose of Busch’s car, but the vehicles of Michael McDowell and Jesse Little did further damage with broadside hits.
With the air seemingly out of the three-peat bid’s bubble, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew went to work on the left-side and rear damage. The work wrapped up before the crash clock expired and Busch was soon back up to competitive speed, but two laps in arrears in 35th place.
Busch returned to contention with the help of a wave-around to regain one lap in the race’s fourth caution period, then earned the free pass to return to the lead lap on the fifth yellow. But Busch faced an obstacle on each pit stop with a fueling issue. Crash damage impaired the fuel hose bracing, forcing the team to take extra time and effort with each stop for service.
“I don’t even know what to think. I’m proud of the effort. I’m proud of the car we put on the race track,” Stevens said. “Had we been able to put fuel in it in a timely manner, it would’ve been a whole different race. … Every time we came down pit road, we’d pretty much lose the tail end of the lead lap at that point. Hard to win a race when you’ve got to pass every car on the lead lap every run. Frustrating, but it shows what the team’s capable of, I guess.”
“We certainly were going to way overachieve tonight,” he said, “but we just didn’t get to.”